European cyclists may know online retail giant Bikester and its bike brands well, but for us here in the U.S, they’re likely an unfamiliar name. Like other DTC brands -Canyon, Cube, Mondraker, etc.- that have jumped across the Atlantic, Bikester is eyeing the U.S. market. And not just with their house-brands like Votec and Fixie Inc., but possibly also their online portal.
We interviewed their CEO, Dr. Hans Dohrmann, to learn more about their business, how the pandemic has affected their supply chains, and expansion plans. If you’ve ever wondered how the big retail players do it in Europe, here’s a look…
BIKERUMOR: In a nutshell, what is Bikester? How is it different than the other online stores selling bike products?
BIKESTER: Bikester is one of the leading specialist retailers for bikes, clothing, equipment, and accessories in Europe. We offer a huge variety of products with country-specific selection in twelve countries. Whether it’s a mountain bike, road, gravel, city, e-bike or children’s bike, we carry them all, plus the components riders want. Compared to other bike specialist shops, we offer the biggest assortment and the highest number of immediately available bikes.
The Bikester team consists of passionate bike experts with specialist knowledge. Combine that with simple site navigation, intelligent search, virtual product consultants, and a frame size calculator, and every customer can find a suitable bike in just a few steps.
The first Bikester Store opened 2020 in Stockholm, turning us from online-only into a multichannel retailer. Bikester is part of Internetstores, which is the outdoor and bike retail segment owned by Signa Sports United, the leading global sports e-commerce and tech platform in Bike, Tennis, Outdoor, and Team Sports.
BIKERUMOR: Back in the day of print magazines, many mail-order shops grew their customer base by buying up last year’s bikes and components at a huge discount, then selling them for a deal. Is that still the main business model for online stores in niche categories? Or are you simply replacing brick-and-mortar by being able to offer a wider selection of new, current-model-year products than any shop could stock?
BIKESTER: Definitely the latter. We usually place orders with manufacturers two years in advance. Spontaneously buying up previous year’s models is not part of our strategy.
We focus on a wide selection in the right models and sizes. To anticipate trends and place optimal orders, we use not only the expertise of our buyers but also algorithms that we have developed ourselves. For example, we were able to predict the growing trend in the gravel sector many years ago and order more gravel bikes accordingly. So we serve the demand of our customers and run less risk. Automatic, dynamic pricing helps us to always offer the products competitively.
Regarding physical stores, we don’t see anything “old school” about brick-and-mortar retail. We own five fahrrad.de (the German equivalent of Bikester) stores in Germany and one Bikester store in Stockholm and we are expanding this multichannel approach across Europe.
But we also collaborate with existing bike shops through our Service Partner Program and have hundreds of physical bike stores as partners. Customers can have their bikes shipped to these shops for assembly, then use them for service and repairs. The idea is to create the perfect customer journey totally independent from channels. We want to be wherever the customer needs us.
BIKERUMOR: One of the things that’s amazed us during the pandemic is that any online store is still blowing out bikes at huge discounts. Considering how hard it’s been to get enough bikes, why would you put anything on sale right now?
BIKESTER: We can definitely say that due to high demand, there were fewer discounts on the market than usual. However, previous year’s models or higher-priced bikes were not sold as easily. There were certainly still some discounts here. In general, it was and still is significantly harder to make a bargain during the pandemic than in previous years.
BIKERUMOR: When COVID first hit, a lot of brands canceled orders with their factories because they thought the shutdowns would kill sales. Obviously, things went a little differently, and demand skyrocketed. By the time brands could react, the factories were either shut down or so backed up with fresh orders, that lead times got super long, super fast, and here we are with low inventory on important products like chains and derailleurs. Presumably, a major online retailer like Bikester would place larger orders…did that give you more access to whatever products were available?
BIKESTER: Like everyone else, we have difficulty getting individual, hard-to-find products and spare parts. And this is despite the fact that in most cases we are still waiting for deliveries and should have received them already.
But in general, we can’t complain. On the contrary, while many (as you correctly described) tended to scale back their orders, we assumed that demand would be enormous and actually ramped up all orders. This could have backfired.
Thankfully, our calculated bet paid off and now we now have full stocks throughout the year and our customers generally find what they are looking for. Yes, maybe sometimes they don’t find the dream bike in the right color. But they definitely find a very good alternative in the same price range. By this year’s standards, that’s already more than many other dealers can offer. And our customers thank us with numerous orders all over Europe.
BIKERUMOR: While some items and complete bikes are pretty much out of stock for months still, we’ve seen plenty of brands launch new components and bikes and magically have inventory of those…do you have any intel on how that’s even possible?
BIKESTER: Products that are now coming onto the market were ordered 12 or 18 months ago and are now gradually being delivered. It’s not as if production has come to a standstill. Everything is running at full speed. It’s just that the lead times for new orders are correspondingly long due to the high demand.
We receive new products in all categories every month, but we planned for and ordered those a long time ago. That said, the component suppliers are to a certain extent preferably supplying the bike manufacturers so they can assemble the new bike models, which is absolutely understandable.
BIKERUMOR: You currently have 40 different bike & outdoor online stores operating in 15 countries and regions, how does that work logistically? Does each one have to have its own warehouse and office? Or is it just a different website with each language but a central operation?
BIKESTER: We have six logistic centers all over Europe, which allow us to deliver the goods to the customer without long waits. The stores and their stocks are controlled centrally. In addition to Bikester, the Internetstores Group also includes other (often country-specific) stores such as fahrrad.de, probikeshop.fr and some outdoor stores, like Campz and Addnature.
Therefore, not every product is automatically available in every shop. Within the Bikester world, however, in 99.9% of cases it is. In order to adapt the stores to country-specific conditions and trends, we work internally with content teams that take this into account.
This was particularly important during the lockdowns. Where there is a curfew with mileage restrictions, after all, it’s hard to promote the topic of “bike travel”. So the stores are all similar (especially regarding the assortment) but still customized to the individual requirements of the country.
BIKERUMOR: Are there some brands you’re only allowed to sell in certain countries or regions? If so, why?
BIKESTER: No, there are no restrictions here. Neither from the side of our partners, nor from ourselves. But of course there are differences regarding what the market and the consumers like, so we adjust our assortment to that.
BIKERUMOR: Other major online retailers have launched some of their own brands or house-brand bikes and components…is Bikester doing that, too?
BIKESTER: Yes, we have our own brands, which we sell exclusively in our shops! These are very popular with our customers and are becoming increasingly important for us. Among others, they include Votec, Serious, Fixie Inc., Vermont, and Ortler.
Of course, our aspiration is to offer our customers the highest quality, and our brands have won various prizes and test winner awards. Many of the brands are already firmly part of the European cityscape and we see them constantly on the streets, which makes us very happy and proud.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the business strategy behind offering your own brands?
BIKESTER: Of course, it is attractive to have everything in our own hands – the amount of orders, the price, and ultimately the product itself! With our own brands, we are always breaking new ground.
For example, we are just launching the second Fixie Inc. Backspin (shown below), which at only 13.2kg is one of the lightest urban e-bikes on the market.
In the summer we are launching our own Ortler Cargo Bike to meet the growing demand in Europe’s cities. And we are also currently testing exciting new digital and urban mobility solutions with our Brand Ortler, stay tuned for that.
And with the Votec VRC, we won a design award. At the end of the day, we have so much bike expertise in-house, that it simply doesn’t make sense not to take this path and give the consumers more choice.
BIKERUMOR: We hear you’re about to open up a U.S. website, when does that launch? What’s the strategy for competing with entrenched stores like JensonUSA, Backcountry, and Competitive Cyclist? What will you do differently?
BIKESTER: The U.S. market is one of the largest bike markets in the world and might be an interesting opportunity. So, of course we look closer at it together with our colleagues from Signa Sports United – as we do with all possible opportunities. But we can’t talk about our concrete strategy yet. But if this changes or any plans become more concrete, you’ll be one of the first to know!